It’s 1980s trivia time! Question: What is the name of the evil force that threatens the imaginary world of Fantasia in the 1984 fantasy film The Neverending Story? Answer: The Nothing, a void of darkness and despair that consumes everything in its path.
Interestingly enough, J.R.R. Tolkien also uses the concept of nothingness to describe the villainous henchmen in his well-loved trilogy The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien writes that the Dark Riders, who hunt Frodo and the ring, are neither dead nor alive and must wear robes to “give shape to their nothingness.” The association of absent substance with evil characterizes countless horror stories as well. Take vampires for instance. Why do the undead monsters see nothing when they look at themselves in a mirror? Because vampires are transparent, missing any real substance, and, as a result, light passes right through them.
Wikipedia delineates “nothing” as “things lacking importance, interest, value, relevance, or significance,” going on to say, “Nothingness is the state of being nothing… or the property of having nothing.” Based on this definition, the fairytale villain of nothingness actually sounds like a legitimate fear every human has faced. The irrelevant, insignificant life lurks as a gnawing nemesis for us all.
God, the author and hero of our story, is reality, life, light, substance, and meaning, and He offers us these gifts. Apart from Him, however, shadows, death, darkness, emptiness, and insignificance threaten to consume us faster than The Nothing or Dark Riders ever could. Our enemy, the devil, prowls around, waiting to destroy any significance and devour any life God has given us, and this lost world and our own sinful desires prove ready accomplices in his ruthless task.
As humans, we were created by God to display His glory, and we have significance when we fulfill this purpose. There is substance and meaning in our existence when we reflect God’s greatness, His beauty, and His all-surpassing worth. Apart from Him, however, we have no good. We have no life. We have no weight. John Piper explains the situation well. “Humans are not made to be mere shadows and echoes. We were made to have God-like substance and make God-like music and have God-like impact. That is what it means to be created in the image of God. But when humans forsake their Maker and love other things more, they become like the things they love—small, insignificant, weightless, inconsequential, and God-diminishing.”
C.S. Lewis describes this tragic state when he writes about those who refuse to receive Christ as Savior, Lord, and Treasure. The narrator in Lewis’s The Great Divorce discovers the terrible reality that, because he has chosen to live apart from God, he is nothing more than a transparent phantom. With his story, Lewis points out that many of our neighbors and friends are, in fact, living each day and heading into eternity as spiritual ghosts, or “man-shaped stains on the brightness of the air.”
Sadly, we as believers, who have been given eternal substance through Christ’s saving death and resurrection, often miss out on His gift of meaning. Rather than pursuing the significant purpose of displaying His glory, we effectively choose eternal irrelevance through our daily thoughts, words, and deeds. Nothingness eats away our relevance when we prioritize our own worthless wants over God’s weighty will. It slowly steals our energy and joy when we replace Christ with imposters that suck us dry or rot us from the inside out.
At different points in my life, I know that I’ve pursued hollow idols and lived for seasons in the shadows. A few sad examples come to mind. I’ve spent hours in the gym because I believed a lie about where my worth was located. I’ve strived in my own strength after academic and athletic goals because I wanted to earn awards and applause for myself. I’ve shied away from being a bold witness because I was more afraid about what people thought of me than I was about missing an opportunity to represent Christ. I’ve placed my own selfish desires above those of my handsome husband. I’ve avoided the difficult path, toward which I felt the Lord calling me, for the sake of my own ease and comfort. I’ve horded my time, my talents, and my treasure because I thought I needed them, more than Christ, to be secure.
If we take the time to stop and think, we’ve all fallen victim to the pitfalls of futile living. Consider for a moment: what are the things we love more than God and His glory? In what ways do we seek significance according to our own plan, through our own gifts, and by our own control? What lies do we believe about God and ourselves? How do we invest our time and our energy in meaningless pursuits that fall short of eternity?
So, if we agree that nothingness is a problem, the question remains, how do we fight it? A few thoughts come to mind. We ask the Lord to give us a passionate and transforming love for Christ, His glory, His principles, and His purpose for our lives. We let the Lord replace our lies with His truth. We courageously pursue the tasks God places before us. We love others with His love. We use our gifts for His glory and point all praise to Him. We take leaps of faith when He tells us to jump. By the power of His glorious presence, we live rooted in His Word, committed to prayer, dependent on His strength, and guided by an eternal perspective.
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” ~ Ephesians 3:16-21